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JOHN ALECHENU examines the import of a motion seeking to compel the suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, and his management team, to account for alleged illegal disbursements of funds without appropriation
Weeks before President Goodluck Jonathan announced the suspension of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Lamido Sanusi, the Senate was preparing to institute a probe into allegations bordering on misapplication of funds belonging to the apex bank against him.
To say there is no love lost between the Nigerian legislators and the CBN governor is to state the obvious. The dispute between the legislature and the CBN governor can be traced to what the legislators insist is the refusal of the CBN and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to surrender their annual budgets for scrutiny as required by law.
On the flip side, the CBN governor had accused the legislature of being a drain pipe on the nation’s scarce resources, in a paper he presented at a public lecture.
These, among other things, led to an attempt by legislators to amend the CBN Act. It took the intervention of the Presidency for the National Assembly to suspend the action.
However, the President himself later had cause to query the CBN governor based on a report of the Financial Reporting Council sometime in April last year, which the Presidency said accused Sanusi of financial recklessness . This did not, however, come to light, until Sanusi raised the alarm that the NNPC failed to remit a whopping $20bn into the nation’s treasury.
Although a motion prepared by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang, was listed as part of legislative business on Wednesday, February 5, it was later stepped down.
There is a renewed agitation, however, by some senators for the motion to be revisited because of the seriousness of the allegations contained in the FRC’s report.
The motion titled ‘Mobilising non-oil and generating oil dependent revenue into the federal treasury through fiscal responsibility by adherence to statutory mandate and due process in the conduct of public procurement’, draws attention to provisions of Sections 80 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Specifically, section (1) stipulates that, ‘All revenues or other money raised or received by the Federation (not being revenues or other monies payable under this Constitution or any Act of the National Assembly, into any other public fund of the Federation established for a specific purpose) shall be paid into and form one Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation’.
The motion also made reference to provisions of Section 21 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which compels all government agencies and corporations listed in the Act, to prepare and submit their schedule estimates of revenue and expenditure for the next three financial years to be submitted along with the Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly.
The motion partly reads, ‘Whereas the Public Procurement Act in Section 3 (1) establishes an agency known as the Bureau of Public Procurement; Whereas the Public Procurement Act provides in Section 15 that the provisions of the Act shall apply to all procurement of goods, works, and services carried out by –
(1) the Federal Government of Nigeria and all procurement entities;
(2) all entities outside the foregoing description which derive at least 35 per cent of funds appropriated or proposed to be appropriated for any type of procurement described in this Act from the Federation share of Consolidated Revenue Fund;
“Whereas Section 60 of the Act provides that, Procuring Entity means any public body engaged in procurement and includes a ministry, extra-ministerial office, government agency, parastatal and corporation;
“Whereas amongst these agencies and government corporations are the Nigerian Ports Authority, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency etc;”
The motion further argues that just like in other legislations and as a model, the Central Bank of Nigeria Act provides (in respect of the application of operating surplus) in Section 5 that:
“1) The Bank shall –
(a) in respect of each financial year, determine its operating surplus which shall be the remaining sum from its income and other receipts after meeting all current expenditures as approved by the Board;
(b) as approved by the Board for that year, make provision for the contribution to staff pension funds in accordance with the Pension Reform Act, 2004 and for any other purpose approved by the Board.
(2) The Bank shall establish a general reserve fund and shall allocate thereto at the end of each financial year one-quarter of its operating surplus for the year.
(3) The balance of the operating surplus shall be paid to the Federal Government half-yearly.”
Relying on these provisions, senators are set to investigate the CBN for awarding contracts for projects from its operating surplus, instead of paying such sums into the Consolidated Revenue Fund for appropriation by the National Assembly.
Some of the projects, which are likely to come under scrutiny, are those whose cost is above N1bn. They include the construction of Centres of Excellence, University of Jos, Plateau State N9.5bn awarded on March 2, 2012;, development of Centres of Excellence, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State N10.2bn; construction of Centres of Excellence, N6.4bn awarded on April 17, 2009; construction of Centres of Excellence, University of Lagos, N14.8bn awarded on December 19, 2012 and intervention Project at Police Academy, Wudil, Kano, N10bn, which has yet to be awarded.
Others include: the Intervention Project at Edo State University, Ekpoma, N1bn, awarded on the December 12, 2013; Intervention Project at Navy Finance and Logistics School, Owerri nta, Abia N1bn, also awarded on December 12, 2013; and a N10bn Intervention Project at the University of Abuja, FCT, which has already been procured.
Other projects to be scrutinised are the construction of Centre of Excellence, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria Campus, N6.1bn, which was awarded on April 27, 2009; the intervention project at Administrative Staff College of Nigeria, Badagry, Lagos, N10bn, which has been procured and the construction of Centres of Excellence, Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, N11.3bn, awarded on December 19, 2012 among other largesse extended to public institutions.
Perhaps, the most curious is a contract for the Development and Operation of Hotels and Sundry Commercial Facilities for the proposed International Convention Centre, Abuja, at the Central Bank of Nigeria at a cost of N98bn.
Without a doubt, Sanusi’s allegation of an unremitted $20bn by the NNPC should and must be investigated. Nigerians also deserve, however, the right to know whether the decision by the Sanusi-led CBN, to spend these funds is in tandem with the laws of the land and in the nation’s best interest.
This is so because the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2008, out of which some nations of the world are yet to fully recover, was triggered largely by the actions and inactions of similar banks in the most developed economies.
Rules were either applied in the breach or were not applied at all. This paved the way for fraudulent actors in the financial sector to force most of the world’s once buoyant economies into recession.
While some argue that the Nigerian economy was largely insulated from the recession at that time because of perceived government’s sound policies, others attribute the nation’s economic survival to the exploits of the informal sector.
The American Federal Reserve Bank, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan, were compelled to make adjustments which saw them give up some of their grip on fiscal and monetary policies to prepare the ground for economic recovery.
Sanusi’s suspension at a time the National Assembly was settling down to probe his allegations of an unremitted $20bn attracted a lot of political attention. Some observers allege that his decision to turn whistle blower was a ploy to divert attention from the contents of the report of the Financial Reporting Council and the Presidential query that followed the content of the report.
His supporters on the other hand argue that he is being hounded for daring to make public allegations that corrupt government officials are having a field day through the NNPC. His allegations added fuel to a raging public controversy over the anti-graft credentials of the Jonathan administration.
Members of the opposition made a lot of political gains from the latest financial scandal, which is coming just a few months after one of the administration’s poster girls, Ms. Stella Oduah, fell from grace as a result of her indiscretions in the purchase of bulletproof vehicles.
It is also expected that the motion, which was said to have earlier been stepped down as a result of the intervention of some northern senators, will open a new frontier for the pro and anti-Sanusi legislators to test the political waters. This is even more so when there are already allegations that the suspended bank chief was an opposition mole in government.
Beyond the sentiment that is being expressed, the least Nigerians deserve is accountability from those in positions of authority.
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